The threat of junior doctors striking across NHS hospitals in England has been lifted after the British Medical Association (BMA) suspended the medics' planned industrial action. The junior doctors were going to walkout from everything but emergency care for 48 hours on 26 January, while a total strike was organised for 10 February.
However, the BMA has now said it will focus on "building on early progress" over the contract dispute with NHS employers and the Department of Health after junior doctors protested across the country on 12 January. The move comes after the parties held negotiations at mitigation service Acas.
Dr Johann Malawana, BMA junior doctor committee chair, said: "The BMA's aim has always been to deliver a safe, fair junior doctor contract through negotiated agreement. Following junior doctors' clear message to the government during last week's action, our focus is now on building on early progress made in the current set of talks.
"On this basis, the BMA has today taken the decision to suspend the industrial action planned for 26 to 28 January, thereby giving Trusts as much notice as possible so as to avoid disruption to patients.
"It is important to be clear, however, that differences still exist between the BMA and the government on key areas, including the protection of patient safety and doctors' working lives, and the recognition of unsocial hours. Significant, concrete progress will need to be made if future action, currently planned for 10 February, is to be averted."
The decision comes after NHS England claimed 10,000 junior doctors signed on to work during the BMA's first day of industrial action. The health service said 39% of a possible 26,000 junior doctors scheduled to work on the shift had reported for duty.
The figure came after 98% of the BMA medics, out of a 76% turnout (28,305), backed a strike in protest over the health service's new contracts in November 2015. Talks between the parties are scheduled to continue at Acas on 21 January and 22 January.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: "The strike that took place last week was unnecessary while talks are ongoing, so it's extremely welcome news that the BMA has suspended next week's action, though as it stands emergency care will still be withdrawn in February. In the end, the government and junior doctors want to do the same thing by improving patient care at weekends – and we look forward to further constructive discussions."